A Short History of the Long Ball

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1990 Hardcover First Edition Fine in fine dust jacket. 1990. Hardback. Fine. First Edition. First Print. Very collectible copy, excellent addition to your collection. Dust ... jacket is protected with a mylar cover. Books are packed and shipped in boxes. Read more Show Less

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Recipient of the National Novella Award, this fiction debut is embarrassingly underdone, its sentences awkward and its themes limply conveyed. Narrator Jake Conklin grows up in an affluent suburb, friend of the cosmopolitan Donny Flannigan. Both grapple with their fathers in the painful movement toward manhood. Conventional Jake becomes a journalist and writer, marries and fathers a son of his own, but Donny succumbs to heroin addiction and very slowly battles his way out. The pivotal scenes are also the least authentic: Jake's visit to Donny in a chemical-dependency unit, the birth of Jake's child, the resolution of the friends' adolescent rivalry. Despite Cronin's attempts at artfulness, (``My work has taken me all over the world,'' says Jake, ``but never in my experience have I found the right words to capture the uncomplicated beauty of light in trees''), the dramatic possibilities of his story evade him. (May)
Library Journal
This 1990 winner of the National Novella Award--selected by Francois Camoin, author of the short story collection Why Men Are Afraid of Women ( LJ 8/84)--explores the childhood relationship of Jake and Donny--one a good kid, one bad. Their friendship is premised on Donny's chal lenges to Jake's moral integrity, an intergrity that ultimately triumphs and is granted the just reward of the righteous man. The baseball metaphor works peripherally to draw together the segments of story, which are based completely on Jake's memory. While the prose is comfortable and the construction artful, this character study remains basically shallow. We begin with a taunting Donny and a bristling Jake; we are left with an older, broken, addicted Donny struggling to begin yet again, while Jake magnanimously honors his old friend's attempt. More interesting for style than content, this fast read can be recommended for large fiction collections.-- Joyce M. Latham, Southern Maryland Regional Lib. Assn., Charlotte Hall
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Justin Cronin
Justin Cronin
Born and raised in New England, Justin Cronin is a graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Awards for his fiction include the Stephen Crane Prize, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. He is a professor of English at Rice University and lives with his wife and children in Houston, Texas.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt


Excerpt


Aerodynamics

When I was ten and Donny was twelve, I hit a ball that really sailed. I thought, as he pitched the ball to me: here is the one. It was a warm afternoon in late March, the dead grass lay in bleached tangles on the muddy earth, the sky, I recall, was a flat, featureless grey. The ball approached me, descending the backside of its lofty arc. Donny had meant for it to go high and outside, but instead had thrown a hitter's ball; it would drop straight to the plate, going slow, through the meaty center of the strike zone. As it neared, my sense of it - my understanding of its ballness, I suppose - mysteriously amplified. I could feel its weight on the wood of my bat, the bottled energy of its rubbery core, and they seemed things detectable only by me, untapped wells of force in a cosmos of unseen forces. It was as if, eyeing that ball, I were peering into the future. I widened my stance, cocked my wrists neatly, shifted my center of gravity onto my back foot and prepared to greet the pitch with the full weight of my destiny. When we met, that ball and I, the world went crack and I felt a rightness, a stupendous rectitude that, in hindsight, I believe is reserved to revolutionaries, charismatics, some new parents and all hitters of the long ball. I spun clean around and as I spun at the top of my vision I saw it sailing up and away into the dark trees at the end of the meadow. I watched Donny watch it go over like a man watching a shooting star. We never did find that ball.

There were others we did find: brown baseballs with rotted seams, softballs half frozen in cloudy puddles, thousands of tennis balls overthrown, overhit, forgotten: a king's ransom in balls. We rooted through those woods like archaeologists in a ruined cave, and when we found old balls, we found new ways to use them. We held pairs of them to our chests to embarrass our sisters, tucked them between our legs and waddled like tomcats, toted a load of them in the seats of our pants back to the house and ejected them, one by one, out the holes of our legs to roll across the kitchen floor. We threw them, waterlogged and heavier than they looked, at passing cars, at road signs, at dogs and at each other. The history of those days remains, in my mind, a history of recovered and lost balls.

The teams, the spring I hit the ball that sailed, were simple. There were my older sister Lucy and I, one team, there were our sometime neighbors Donny and Martha Flannigan, the other. The Flannigans lived in New York City, which at the time was a dangerous mystery to me (I rode the train in once a year with my grandmother to skate at Rockefeller Center, see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum and pick out a toy at Schwarz), and came out on weekends and for a month in summer. Many aspects of that family were variations on my own and inspired a confusion of bourgeois envy and Yankee distaste. Both our fathers were lawyers, but Mr. Flannigan was obviously a good deal better at it, or more ambitious, or simply a different sort of lawyer altogether. As a family they took lavish trips, drove expensive cars (a series of Jags occupied their driveway during the years I knew them), and once Mr. Flannigan defended a corrupt Bronx Borough Deputy Chief and had his handsome, square-jawed face on the cover of the New York Post. My father, round and thoroughly unhandsome, was a small-town lawyer and member of the County Board of Overseers: stalwart, thrifty and unflappable, disposed to pregnant moral silences, idle puttering and gizmos. His greatest love was sailing and on weekends he woke early to tack a catboat around the tame waters of Long Island Sound. I would be the first to admit we had money, but nowhere near as much as the Flannigans, who seemed to me glamorous and fabulously rich, closer by far than we to the beating heart that drove the world.

The Flannigans' house stood on the other side of the meadow behind our place. Mrs. Flannigan raised pulies - a mindless, yapping breed which even then I associated with the mania and indolence of city life - and they had bought the house as a sort of ersatz kennel, though I don't recall they ever had more than two or three dogs on the place at one time. The dog run stood out back and in summer, smelled like baking shit. On the trim above their front door a bronze plaque had been affixed, engraved with the date 1851 and a citation from the National Register of Historic Places. The previous owners had been a childless couple: the woman was a librarian at my school.

"I was mugged this week on the way home from the movies." Donny told this to me when we first met. I think I was eight. We were fooling around in the half-empty moving van parked in their driveway, trying to get to know one another, explaining the history of ourselves. It was cold and we could see our breath, which made me feel older. The air smelled of metal, burlap and grease.

"If I hadn't had a quarter to give him I'd be deader n'shit now. See?" He dug into the front pocket of his jeans, produced a quarter and flicked it cleanly to me in the dark compartment of the truck. I plucked it from the air and looked down at it with the admiration due an artifact.

"In the Big Apple, you never leave the house without a little something for the muggers," he explained. "And you keep it in a special pocket or something, so you can reach for it right off and don't have to give them your whole wallet."

Donny was two years older than I and much larger, with thick black hair, piercing blue eyes and angular, almost Oriental features. He was, for a ten year old boy, quite manly in his appearance. That he had looked Death straight in the face and bought him off with a quarter amounted in my mind to a studied accomplishment in defiance and cunning. His sense of the world seemed simply immense.

"That's a good idea," I said, returning the coin. "I wouldn't want to give my wallet to anybody. I carry a lot of personal stuff."

"Yeah?" Donny said. "Let's see." He extended his hand to receive my wallet, which of course was pure fiction. All the money I owned in the world - about five dollars in nickels, dimes and pennies and a few priceless-looking foreign coins given me by my grandmother - was stashed in a cast-iron fire hydrant on the top of my bureau.

I was doomed.

"Cough it up," Donny demanded.

"Well," I stammered, "I don't have it with me, right at the moment."

His upturned palm hovered in front of me, and at first I thought he had seen through my lie (I was too naive to see through his). But then he gave me a look of almost criminal complicity, a kind of gangsterish facial wink, and his hand fell to his side. I knew then that I had passed some kind of test, that Donny had joined me as a partner in my fib, and we were going to be friends.

"You're a cool one, you are." He knelt, took a pocketknife from his jacket and set about engraving his initials in one of the plywood beams that framed the truck's cargo compartment. "Maybe, when you get to know me, I can see it."


Excerpted from A Short History of the Long Ball by Justin Cronin. Copyright © 1990 by Justin Cronin. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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